Round 8 of the revised 2020 F1 Season took place at Circuit Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, also known as the Temple of Speed. The circuit situated near the city of Milan is the home Grand Prix for Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team, and it's faithful, the Tifosi. Unfortunately this year the race was held behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The FIA enforced the ban on "quali modes" from this weekend. The ban came into effect on Saturday, meaning the teams had to use a single-engine setting from the start of qualifying till the end of the race.
Williams Racing announced that Claire Williams, the Deputy Team Principal, would step down from her position after the Italian GP weekend. The new owners Dorilton Capital chose to continue with the Williams name, but it was an end to a rich legacy of racing history.
Mercedes reigned supreme at Spa and seemed destined for the same in Italy. Ferrari's lack of straight-line speed caused them much pain at Spa while Renault produced their best result of 2020 ( till now ). Autodromo Monza is the fastest circuit on the calendar, demanding a low downforce setup from all teams. Would there be a new winner or would status quo be maintained? How did all the teams fare at this historic track?
Time for a quick recap!
Free Practice 1 saw Valtteri Bottas top the timesheets from Lewis Hamilton and Alex Albon. Kvyat, Verstappen and Gasly completed the top 6. It was a fruitful session for Alpha Tauri, its duo within a second of the high-flying Mercedes. Verstappen suffered a spin at the Ascari chicane in the early part of FP1, hitting the wall and damaging his front wing and bringing out the red flags. There were a lot of cars running wide onto the gravel at turns causing "stones" to end up on the racing line which came to the notice of Raikkonen. The midfield battle resumed between Racing Point, McLaren and Renault with Perez, Norris, Ricciardo and Sainz making it into the top 10. Leclerc was P11 for Ferrari, in a car that was a mere shadow of its predecessor. Vettel had a torrid time in the other works Ferrari suffering from balance issues and locking up his tyres regularly. He could only manage the 19th fastest time. Ocon and Stroll were 12th and 13th, respectively. The Haas drivers were 14th and 15th, followed by the two Alfa Romeos. Roy Nissany, the reserve driver for Williams, got the nod for another FP1 session and was the faster of the two Williams drivers.
Mercedes reigned supreme in Free Practice 2 with Hamilton setting the fastest ever practice time at Monza, two tenths clear of his team-mate Bottas. Turn 5 was the nemesis with a lot of drivers struggling for corner grip. Norris was the surprise of FP2 with the 3rd fastest time in his McLaren. Gasly's Friday got better with a P4 finish followed by Verstappen and Sainz who were more than a second adrift of Hamilton's time of FP2. The resurgence of Alpha Tauri continued with Kvyat in the sister car setting the 7th fastest time from Stroll, Leclerc and Perez. Stroll had a sparring time with the Haas cars, impeding Grosjean and then getting impeded by Magnussen on his flying lap. Leclerc had his share of off-track moments, relaying how difficult it was to drive the car. His team-mate Vettel suffered a spin ( at turn 6 ) but was able to get his car back to the pits after escaping unscathed from contact with the barriers. He managed the 12th fastest time. The Renault drivers were P11 ( Ocon ) and P15 ( Ricciardo ), but ascertaining their pace was difficult since some of their laps got deleted due to exceeding track limits. Getting a tow is invaluable on a circuit like Monza ( for better straight-line speed ), and the drivers tried to practice for qualifying by queueing up one behind the other, resulting in traffic jams, and some drivers missing their braking points. Giovinazzi however, benefitted from the tow and was P13 ahead of Albon in a Red Bull. Raikkonen, in P17, was in a Haas sandwich with Latifi and Russell bringing up the rear of the field.
Hamilton seemed to have the upper hand with regards to one-lap pace, but how large would the disparity be with the chasing pack by the banning of engine modes remained to be seen. Everyone needed to stay "within the white line" to avoid having lap times deleted. The effect of the tow could also throw up a few surprises on Saturday, needing the teams to form up an effective strategy to benefit from this.
It was a dry Saturday, and Free Practice 3 got underway with the teams running their qualifying simulations. Bottas was the fastest in FP3, three tenths clear of his team-mate Hamilton in P5. Hamilton's final run was compromised after the Briton had to make an evasive manoeuvre to avoid hitting slow-moving cars ( near Parabolica ). Renault power came to the fore with Sainz, Norris and Ricciardo making it into the top 4. A suspected fuel pump failure on Ricciardo's car cut his session short and briefly brought out the red flags. Verstappen slotted in at P6, his best lap on the medium tyres. Albon, Ocon and the Racing Point duo completed the top 10. Leclerc was P11 for Ferrari, just clear of Gasly and Kvyat in 12th and 13th. Grosjean, in P14, was the first driver more than a second slower of the fastest time of FP3. Vettel split the Haas drivers with Raikkonen, Latifi, Russell and Giovinazzi bringing up the rear of the field. There were a few drivers who had their lap times deleted for exceeding track limits at turn 11, and this trend continued into qualifying.
The desire for a better tow along with optimum track position was leading to massive traffic jams and it became pretty evident that this could cause an accident besides denying some the opportunity to set a lap time ( a repeat of 2019 ). Some drivers were also found guilty of driving too slowly on their warmup laps. Eight drivers got summons at the end of FP3 - Latifi, Grosjean, Perez, Hamilton, Gasly, Stroll, Albon and Sainz. The incident at the Parabolica where Hamilton was the aggrieved party also got investigated.
Williams and the three Ferrari-powered teams were the first cars out on track at the start of Q1. The rest of the field exited the pits with thirteen minutes left on the clock, everyone barring the Mercedes works team was on soft tyres. Leclerc, Magnussen, Gasly & Stroll had their lap times deleted for exceeding track limits at turn 11. The top 6 after the first runs were Hamilton, Bottas, Perez, Sainz, Norris and Verstappen. The drivers in the drop zone were Latifi, Stroll, Gasly, Leclerc and Magnussen. The list changed again as the latter half of the field went for a second run. Meanwhile, Albon had his lap time deleted for exceeding track limits and was on the cusp of elimination in P15.
A flurry of cars exited the pits with three minutes of Q1 remaining with Perez, Sainz and Verstappen choosing to stay put. Grosjean, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Russell and Latifi were in the drop zone. The fight for the optimum tow and track position made the Alfa Romeo drivers overtake a couple of cars ahead of them, leading to complete chaos at the exit of Parabolica. Six drivers were battling on the pit straight at the start of their final flying lap of Q1. It seemed to be more of a race rather than a qualifying session as the contenders jostled for position, and the results were disastrous. Vettel got impeded by Russell and had to back out of his final run, eventually pitting and getting eliminated in Q1! Raikkonen got an excellent tow from Ocon, but the Frenchman, himself on a flying lap didn't budge, and the two were millimetres away from a high-speed collision. The replays showed how messy the out laps were for the final runs and almost all drivers got compromised on their flying laps. Russell and Raikkonen made their displeasure known over team radio.
The stewards decided to investigate the incident involving Ocon, Raikkonen and Latifi after the session.
Grosjean, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Russell and Latifi got eliminated at the end of Q1.
Hamilton was fastest in Q1 from Bottas and Perez. Sainz, Gasly and Verstappen completed the top 6. Leclerc made it into Q2 with the 10th fastest time while Albon was fortunate to scrape through in 15th. Raikkonen and Alfa Romeo made an appearance in Q2 for the second time this season.
All teams opted for the soft tyres for their first runs of Q2, and it was Hamilton who set the fastest lap time ( on the first run ), going past the previous track record of Raikkonen set in 2018. Bottas was second quickest with only five-hundredths of a second separating Perez and Sainz in 3rd and 4th. Verstappen was P5 along with Gasly in P6, the Frenchman continuing to impress in his Alpha Tauri. Kvyat, Ocon, Leclerc, Magnussen and Raikkonen were in the drop zone, Magnussen and Raikkonen having set their banker laps with used soft tyres from Q1. There was a beeline at the pit exit in the final minutes of Q2 with everyone on a fresh set of soft tyres. The Renault drivers had clear air and track position with Ricciardo leading Ocon on their flying laps. Ricciardo had to improve as he was only 9th fastest and was pushing hard for a better lap time. Unfortunately, an error on the exit of turn 5 sent him wide and over the gravel bringing his effort to an end. Magnussen also went wide on the second Lesmo bringing out yellow flags in sector 2.
Bottas, however, found more pace and went the fastest at the end of Q2, making the track record his own. He was into the high 1:18s, two tenths clear of Hamilton and Sainz. Perez, Verstappen and Gasly completed the top 6. Ricciardo was the only works Renault driver in Q3 with the 9th fastest time while Albon had yet another close call in Q2 with a P10 finish.
Kvyat, Ocon, Leclerc, Raikkonen and Magnussen got eliminated at the end of Q2.
Q3 got underway with the Mercedes duo having a comfortable buffer to the rest of the field. Hamilton was on provisional pole from Bottas and Perez. Verstappen and Sainz were 4th and 5th fastest. Norris completed the top 6 after the first runs while Albon had another lap time deletion due to exceeding of track limits. Ricciardo, Gasly and Stroll were the others to set banker laps. Hamilton and Bottas didn't wait for the final minutes of qualifying and drove out of the pits with five minutes remaining on the clock. The rest of the field mirrored their strategy. The Mercedes cars were into the 1:18s again with Hamilton setting a new track record, en route to the 94th pole position of his career! Bottas improved on his lap but was a tenth slower than Hamilton's pole lap. McLaren sprung a surprise with Sainz who went third fastest, eighth tenths adrift of the Mercedes. It was the highest starting position for the Ferrari bound Spaniard.
It would be the first time in 2020 that a Red Bull would not feature on the second row of the grid with Perez pipping Verstappen to P4. Row three got taken up by Verstappen and Norris while Ricciardo and Stroll occupied row four. Albon and Gasly completed the top 10.
The stewards' decision was "no further action" for the incident from Q1 ( Raikkonen, Ocon & Latifi ).
It was no secret that the Mercedes would be unbeatable on a Saturday. The deficit would have only been wider if running higher engine modes were allowed. They were clear favourites, and another 1-2 beckoned. Hamilton bagged the 94th pole position of his career besides setting the fastest lap in the history of F1. Sainz had a great qualifying for McLaren and looked a serious contender for the podium on Sunday. Red Bull had Racing Point and Alpha Tauri breathing down their necks while Renault was there to capitalize on mistakes by its competitors. It was a very tight midfield, and teams had to draw up their best strategies for Sunday. Ferrari seemed destined to contend with its customer teams ( Haas and Alfa Romeo ) for yet another weekend while Williams rued a missed opportunity in qualifying and hoped to make amends on race day.
Bottas had some drama on his reconnaissance lap, locking up his tyres and his car bouncing over the kerbs. No damage suffered though.
The risk of rain during the race was 20%.
The tyre compounds available for the race were C2, C3 and C4. The top 10 started the race on the soft tyres from their Q2 session. Kvyat and Vettel chose the hard tyre, Leclerc and Ocon the softs and the rest were on mediums for the start of the race.
It was a clean getaway for Hamilton when the lights went out. Bottas had a decent start but got swamped by the McLarens into turn 1. Sainz got the jump into P2 while Norris made contact with Bottas on his overtake for P4 a couple of corners later. It got worse for the Finn with Perez and Ricciardo getting past him in the Lesmos and at Ascari.
Raikkonen and Giovinazzi moved up two and four positions on the opening lap while Albon lost six places. The Thai driver tangled with Gasly at the first turn of the opening lap and was down in P15. The incident got noted, the stewards deeming it as "no investigation necessary".
Magnussen pitted at the end of the opening lap, switching to the hard tyres, rejoining almost a minute behind the rest of the pack. He had picked up front-wing and nose damage.
Stroll got past Verstappen for P7 on lap 2, and Vettel overtook Russell for P17. Bottas suspected a slow puncture on his car, but the team assured him that all was fine. Verstappen got back into Stroll's slipstream and reclaimed P7 on lap 3. Meanwhile, Hamilton was motoring away in the lead and set the fastest lap of the race on lap 4. Leclerc and Raikkonen battled for P12, but the latter put up a dogged defence.
There was drama on lap 6. Vettel suffered a rear brake failure while fighting with Russell over P17 and was unable to brake at the first chicane. He went straight through the polystyrene board, his brake-by-wire system having exploded. Ferrari had made him aware of the situation on the previous lap, and his brakes were already on fire out of Ascari. Bits of the brake components flew off on the entry into Parabolica, eventually sending him through those boards at turn 1. He slowly made it back to the pits and into retirement on lap 7.
Albon incurred a five-second time penalty for not giving Grosjean a car's width while defending his position at turn 1. He suffered massive floor damage as a result of that contact. The Perez and Norris battle heated up on lap 9, the former having to back out of a move at turn 1. Bottas wasn't able to close up on Ricciardo, the chance of a race win dwindling with each passing lap.
Hamilton, Sainz, Norris, Perez, Ricciardo, Bottas, Verstappen, Stroll, Ocon and Gasly were the top 10 at the end of lap 12.
The team decided to put Bottas on the alternate strategy, asking him to go longer than the cars ahead of him on his first stint ( lap 16 ). He also was asked to move off the racing line wherever possible to cool off the temperatures on his car and came under pressure from Verstappen who was in DRS range. Bottas wasn't happy about the setup and the engine settings he was on, his car struggling in the dirty air. Hamilton meanwhile had opened a ten seconds gap to Sainz at the front and looked in control.
Latifi pitted for the hard tyres on lap 17 while Albon made a move on Leclerc for P13. Leclerc didn't waste time and pitted immediately to switch to the hard tyres, rejoining in P17. Raikkonen pitted a lap later for hard tyres, rejoining in P16. The Finn was a bit confused with the strategy call by the team since he believed the medium tyres had some life left. The team wanted to cover off Leclerc and Raikkonen was forced to relent. Latifi overtook Magnussen for P18 ( lap 19 ), and Magnussen rolled to a stop near the pit entry with an engine failure.
Gasly pitted for hard tyres, rejoining in P15 and just after that the Safety Car got deployed ( lap 20 ). Hamilton and Giovinazzi decided to capitalize and pitted for mediums and hard tyres, respectively. The rest of the field stayed out since the stewards had closed the pit lane entry.
Hamilton and Giovinazzi got flagged for investigation for entering the pit lane when it was closed!! Replays showed that the lightboxes had a red cross and the duo had committed a safety breach!
The Pit lane entry cleared on lap 22 and, there was a slew of pit stops. McLaren, Red Bull and Renault decided to double stack their cars. Perez, Bottas, Kvyat, Grosjean and Russell were the others who pitted. Bottas was able to jump Ricciardo and Perez in the pit stops. It was a slow stop for Perez, his right front tyre to blame. All chose the medium tyres. Stroll was the only driver who didn't pit under the Safety Car and was up into P2. Gasly, Giovinazzi, Raikkonen, Leclerc and Latifi had jumped into the top 8 after the round of pit stops.
The Safety Car was in at the end of lap 23 and racing resumed in full earnest.
Hamilton was quick off the blocks with Gasly in tow. Leclerc made a double overtake on the Alfa Romeo cars, moving up into P4. Raikkonen got past his team-mate for P5, and there was a lot of action throughout the field. Sainz was past Latifi for P7, Verstappen cleared Perez for P12, the latter losing three more positions to Ocon, Kvyat and Russell. He recovered to repass Russell. Latifi lost two more places to Norris and Bottas and was down to P10 while Ocon sparred with his old nemesis Verstappen for P12 but couldn't complete the overtake. Further down the field, Albon got past Grosjean of P17.
There was more drama on lap 24 when Leclerc lost the rear of his car under acceleration out of Parabolica and got sent straight into the barriers. It was a big crash, and the Monegasque sounded a bit winded over team radio. Thankfully, he got out of his car and jogged away from the scene of the accident.
The Safety Car got deployed again, but citing the damage done to the barriers, the stewards decided to Red Flag the race. The cars headed back to the pits, and the verdict from the pit lane investigation was out. Giovinazzi incurred a ten seconds stop-go penalty for his earlier infringement. Mercedes informed Hamilton a similar punishment was coming their way.
The cars returned to the pits while the stricken Ferrari got extricated by the Marshalls.
The stewards didn't wait long to punish Hamilton with the same ten seconds stop-go penalty, and this would put him out of contention for the win ( lap 26 ).
Hamilton decided to visit the stewards' office during the break to reason with them, and Mercedes decided to change some bits on both their cars ( specially Bottas ) under the watchful eyes of Joe Bauer, the FIA Technical Delegate.
Norris was also in trouble for driving too slowly in the pit lane entry. Stroll was the biggest beneficiary of the Red Flag. He hadn't stopped for fresh tyres under normal racing conditions or during the Safety Car period and could now swap his tyres until the end of the race. He was in P2 and could inherit the lead once Hamilton came in to serve his penalty. Gasly was P3 with Raikkonen in 4th for Alfa Romeo.
The stewards decided on a standing start for the race restart, and lap 27 became the formation lap behind the Safety Car.
The pit lane lights went green, and Hamilton led the field away for the second "formation lap" of the race. Raikkonen, Giovinazzi and Ocon had opted for the soft tyres ( a dicey call ), their teams expecting them to complete a stint of 26 laps! Hamilton, Albon and Grosjean were on the hard tyres and the rest of the pack on the mediums. The incident between Verstappen and Perez from lap 24 got flagged for investigation as the cars lined up on the grid.
Hamilton had a clean restart, but Stroll lost P2 to Gasly. Raikkonen and Giovinazzi got passed him as well. Stroll had a big lock-up at the Second Variante, losing another place to Sainz but retaking it at the Ascari chicane. Kvyat got past Latifi ( for P11 ) who continued to fall backwards while Verstappen was down in P14.
Hamilton decided to serve his penalty on the next lap ( 29 ) and rejoined in last, thirty seconds adrift. Gasly led the race for Alpha Tauri with the two Alfa Romeos of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi in second and third respectively! Who could have imagined such a situation!
Meanwhile, Perez got past Latifi for P11 while Grosjean overtook Verstappen for 13th. Hamilton's other title challenger Bottas was in P7 battling for P6 with Norris. Giovinazzi served his penalty on lap 31, rejoining in P16 and last. Verstappen also pulled into the pits and retirement with an engine issue. It was a lacklustre weekend for the Dutchman.
Hamilton set the fastest lap of the race on lap 32, giving his all to reduce the deficit to the cars in front. Russell and Grosjean were sparring over P12, but the Frenchman held firm. Alfa Romeo's decision to put Raikkonen on the soft tyres was turning into a farce as Raikkonen rapidly lost places over the next few laps. He went from second to eighth in the space of five laps, losing positions to Sainz, Stroll, Norris, Bottas and Ricciardo. Thankfully, the racing was hard but fair as the Iceman put up a stoic defence but for a losing cause. The team and driver were having a heated discussion about preserving the tyres while pushing for points finish. Further down the field, Grosjean and Russell tussled over P12 and Hamilton had caught up to Albon and overtook him for P14 on lap 40.
Sainz was within three seconds of Gasly as Hamilton continued his charge up the field with overtakes on Russell and Grosjean for P13 and P12 ( lap 42 ). Raikkonen lost two more places to Kvyat and Ocon in the space of two laps. He was in P9 and under threat of finishing outside the points. Hamilton got past Latifi for P11 on lap 45 as the gap at the front reduced to two seconds. Perez went wheel to wheel with Raikkonen and relegated him to P10 on lap 46. Hamilton had caught up to the duo and put Raikkonen out of the points on the same lap. The fight for the win was hotting up with Sainz reducing the deficit to Gasly to just 1.2 seconds. These were anxious times in both the garages.
Perez lost 9th to Hamilton on lap 49, and the team asked Gasly to start pushing till the end of the race. Sainz got the license to use more battery power and closed the gap in the first sector, only to lose time in the dirty air in the second. Lap 50 saw Norris pulling away from Bottas who was falling back into the clutches of Ricciardo in the battle for P5. Hamilton picked off Kvyat for P8 on lap 51, and Raikkonen lost P11 to Latifi on the penultimate lap.
McLaren asked Sainz to "keep it clinical" and bring the car home in P2, but Sainz wanted to win this race. The battle went into the final lap, and Sainz gave it all under DRS to close up on Gasly. However, the Alpha Tauri had better exits out of the corners and was able to fend off the challenge. Further down the field, Hamilton got past Ocon for P7 and Grosjean relegated Raikkonen to P13.
Gasly took the chequered flag and victory at the Italian Grand Prix!! Sainz had to settle for 2nd while Stroll completed his recovery to 3rd. It was a missed opportunity for the Canadian, the mistakes on the restart costing him dearly. Norris came home in 4th, capping off a great Sunday for McLaren. Bottas could only manage P5 while Ricciardo held on to P6 from a charging Hamilton. It was an inspired recovery from the back of the field for the six-time World Champion. Ocon, Kvyat and Perez completed the top 10.
Latifi finished in P11, just outside the points in his Williams. Grosjean was 12th for Haas while Raikkonen had a frustrating end in 13th. Russell, Albon and Giovinazzi were the other classified finishers.
Celebrations erupted in the pit lane, the Alpha Tauri mechanics celebrating an unthinkable victory. The person responsible for their COVID tests joined them as well! McLaren was ecstatic with the second podium finish of 2020. Ontrack, Gasly was screaming with joy on the radio while Sainz was proud of the best finish of his career. He badly wanted the win for McLaren who hadn't won a race since Brazil 2012, but it was not to be. He wished for one more lap to get the job done. Ocon and Renault had an exchange of words, the team reminding him to avoid discussing sensitive matters over the radio. Raikkonen was livid with the strategy, and Alfa Romeo was apologizing for this gaffe. Latifi and Russell got on the radio to thank the Williams family for their support and wished them the best in their future endeavours.
Gasly was the first French winner since Olivier Panis' win in Monaco in 1996. It was the second victory for Alpha Tauri F1, 4371 days had passed since their last win in Monza in 2008 with Vettel. The Italian GP, their home race had become a happy hunting ground. F1 had a winner who didn't belong to Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull after 146 races. The last was Kimi Raikkonen with Lotus F1 at Australia in 2013.
The Williams Family said goodbye to the world of F1, Claire Williams emotional after her last Grand Prix with the team.
9 Constructor's Championships, 7 Driver's Championship, 114 Race Victories, 312 Podiums and 133 Fastest Laps were part of the legacy they leave behind!
The marshalls and the track representatives unfurled a gigantic Italian tricolour on the start-finish straight as the Alpha Tauri mechanics sang the Italian National Anthem with vigour during the podium celebrations.
Mercedes and Hamilton blew the chance of sure-shot victory with the pit lane infringement. Bottas had a humbling experience in the other car while Verstappen, the other title challenger to Hamilton, failed to capitalize and suffered retirement. McLaren was pleased with a strong performance while Racing Point made a recovery of sorts after a mediocre Belgian GP. Albon had a forgettable weekend, and his Red Bull seat was now under serious threat. Williams finished just outside the points unfortunately but would be encouraged with the race pace displayed by its drivers. Alfa Romeo's aggressive strategy backfired, and the team can't afford such mistakes when the chances of points finish are few and far between. Ferrari had an embarrassing weekend with double DNFs, and the absence of the Tifosi saved them further blushes. Their chances of salvaging this season are dwindling with each weekend.
Alpha Tauri and Gasly kept it clean and capitalized when the opportunity came. Honda power reigned supreme on the fastest track of the calendar. They have come a long way since their days of unreliability and lack of pace. Kudos to them! The past 18 months have been an emotional rollercoaster for Gasly, the jump to Red Bull in 2019 only to lose his seat midway through the season; then losing his friend Anthoine Hubert in Belgium and bagging his first podium ( 2nd ) in Brazil at the end of the year to winning this year with Alpha Tauri. Life had come full circle for the Frenchman. He spent a few moments in solitude on the podium, reminiscing the time gone by, remembering his deceased mate and taking in the feeling of being a Grand Prix winner. He was deserving of this honour. He fought hard, prevailed and came out triumphant. He was a new Alpha in the world of motorsport!
The next race on the calendar is the Tuscan Grand Prix. Mugello, a circuit that is a regular feature on the Moto GP calendar will host F1 for the first time. It is also Ferrari's 1000th GP, so the event has even more significance.
Will we see a new winner in Mugello? Time will tell!